Building a reliable and safe passenger rail transport
Speech by Donald Grant, Western Cape Minister of Transport and Public Works, In the NCOP: Thursday 5 October 2017
- Honourable Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces
- Honourable Members and Office Bearers
- Delegates from the Provinces
- Honourable Minister of Transport
- Distinguished Guests
- Ladies and Gentlemen
It is a pleasure to represent the Western Cape Government today in the National Council of Provinces during this important debate. I have listened intently to the range of contributions already made this afternoon – contributions which reflect many important aspects of commuter rail transport.
When I spoke in this house earlier this year as part of the Minister’s budget debate I indicated our full support of his five core pillars underpinning the overall transport budget. It is appropriate today in this debate that I highlight once again three of these core pillars, as follows:
- transforming and improving the lives of our people,
- continually improving transport safety and security, and
- a strong commitment to quality public transport infrastructure and services.
Against this background, Chairperson, I want to plead the case of the hundreds of thousands of ordinary, hard-working residents of the Western Cape whose lives are impacted by the current clear absence of the quality and the improved safety and security which these core pillars commit to.
The passenger rail network in the Cape Town functional area is well-located, should provide an essential social and economic service and has the potential to make a major contribution to an efficient and sustainable urban future. The service is meant to provide a critical lifeline for the poor, providing affordable access to opportunities and services to those living in far-flung areas and helping to bridge the spatial divides that were so shamefully put in place during the apartheid era.
Passenger rail has so much potential in Cape Town and the surrounding areas - potential to provide affordable access to opportunities for all, potential to support the reshaping of this major city through Transit-Orientated Development, potential to alleviate congestion by providing a real alternative to the private car, potential to boost investor and tourism interest in Cape Town, and the potential to improve the overall quality of life for so many of our population.
It is this potential of rail that makes the current situation so tragic and so unacceptable.
As we are all aware, the passenger rail service in Cape Town is currently in crisis and is providing neither a safe nor a reliable service.
The most disadvantaged in our communities are forced to wake up very early to catch a train, for fear of delays and that they may lose their jobs. These same people must endure inhumane and severely overcrowded conditions, some hanging out of the train. If the train arrives on time, the risk of breakdown is a cause for anxiety given the recent aggravated decline in reliability. Passengers are also exposed to crime and personal danger. These are just some of the very real consequences of an unreliable and unsafe service for the people of the Western Cape.
As we all know, one of the major issues affecting the rail service in Cape Town in recent years has been vandalism. This has had a devastating effect on Metrorail’s capacity and the reliability of its services. For captive users - those who have no choice but to use the train for economic reasons - life has become that much harder. For choice users - those who can afford to use a private car or another mode of public transport - the train has become an increasingly unattractive alternative.
The inability of Prasa to secure its network coupled with the appallingly low rate of arrests and prosecutions for arson and other attacks on trains – a depressing by-product of poor policing and limited effectiveness of the criminal justice system – has produced what is often nothing more than a crime scene on wheels.
The impact on businesses and the broader economy is great given the vast number of workers who rely on rail as their main mode of transport.
In the last few years, we have witnessed declining reliability, deteriorating safety conditions, an increased incidence of vandalism and fewer available train sets.
At the same time, we are concerned by the broader organisational challenges being experienced by PRASA at a national level, including allegations of corruption and mismanagement from the Public Protector and others, the loss of technical skills, and poor staff morale. We note the Honourable Minister’s commitment to rail improvement, through investments in rail infrastructure and rolling stock but are appalled at the extent to which these commitments are being hampered by allegations of massive fraud and managerial inefficiencies.
My Department has already provided assistance to Metrorail wherever possible – particularly in relation to security. The return in improved service for the more than 600 000 dependent commuters and the many more possible passengers has not been significant.
We hear about orders placed for new train sets and we read about the potential impact of new technologies. Commuters dream of affordable, efficient, safe and reliable rail services. BUT, Chairperson, we know that these will not be a reality today or even next week.
As the Western Cape Government, we wish to see an improvement much sooner – a movement towards a good quality rail service, that is meeting its potential and we want to work in partnership with the National Department of Transport, PRASA, Metrorail, the City of Cape Town, the private sector and passengers to develop a workable solution to the current crisis. We have to improve the here and now situation. We have to give commuters something better as soon as possible.
The Western Cape Government – and my department in particular – will welcome with open arms any opportunity to make a contribution to turning around this failing service.
From a safety and reliability perspective, this means we would like to see, at the very least:
- A service that business, workers, learners and the broader community can rely on to be on time and provide sufficient capacity to meet demand – a demand which will grow rapidly.
- A service free from crime;
- A service that is affordable to those on low incomes;
- A secure network, free from vandalism and fare evasion;
- Infrastructure, rolling stock, stations and other elements of the network that fully meet safety standards; and
- Capacity and processes in place to ensure safe operations.
As Government we cannot sit back and let our residents endure such hardship or let the enormous promise of rail fade.
I thank you.